Postgame observations: Salt Lake 1, D.C. United 0

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For the past two matches, D.C. United’s energy has been admirable considering the sheer number of minutes those players have logged over the past two weeks. But United took just a single point from those contests, settling for a draw at home against New York before falling 1-0 last night at Real Salt Lake.

At 12-10-5, United now sit in a tie with the Chicago Fire (12-8-5) for fifth in the Eastern Conference. If the Fire, who have two games in hand, get a result tonight at home against the Houston Dynamo, D.C. will find itself on the outside looking in at the playoff field for the first time since the season’s opening weeks.

So is it time to hit the panic button?

Possibly. On the plus side, United don’t play again until Sept. 15, so they’ll have time to get healthy and rested. And United’s schedule down the stretch is enviable: They face New England, Philadelphia, Chivas USA, Portland and Toronto, all teams poised to miss the playoffs, before closing the season with what likely will be crucial matches against Columbus and Chicago.

But this also is similar to last season, when United had a clear path to the postseason and three of six games to end the year against teams that ultimately missed the playoffs. As we remember, they went a stunning 0-5-1 in that stretch.

Here are some of my thoughts on United’s match last night:

Lionard Pajoy was a handful up top. United coach Ben Olsen clearly likes his strikers to play with a lot of energy, pressuring opposing back lines and holding the ball up. Pajoy did that very well for the full 90 minutes last night, showing why D.C. envied the Colombian when he was with Philadelphia. But Pajoy’s touch in the penalty area did let him down a few times.

Brandon McDonald held his own at right back. With Andy Najar sidelined by an abscessed tooth, McDonald made his first start for United as a fullback and did well jumping into the attack while also providing adequate cover defensively. The combination play from Ned Grabavoy and Javier Morales that set up Will Johnson’s goal came on his side, but the blame there should be put more on the poor marking in the box.

— United missed Branko Boskovic. Sidelined by an illness, Boskovic’s calmness on the ball and set-piece service could have crucial in last night’s often sloppy game. It was clear United needed some fresh legs in the second half, but Olsen’s options were limited to Maicon Santos, who was just returning from a toe injury, and Lewis Neal.

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